A solar deity (also sun god or sun goddess) is a sky deity who represents the Sun, or an aspect of it, usually by its perceived power and strength. Solar deities and Sun worship can be found throughout most of recorded history in various forms. The Sun is sometimes referred to by its Latin name Sol or by its Greek name Helios. The English word sun stems from Proto-Germanic *sunnǭ.
The Neolithic concept of a “solar barge” (also “solar bark”, “solar barque”, “solar boat” and “sun boat”, a mythological representation of the Sun riding in a boat) is found in the later myths of ancient Egypt, with Ra and Horus. Predynasty Egyptian beliefs attribute Atum as the sun-god and Horus as a god of the sky and Sun. As the Old Kingdom theocracy gained power, early beliefs were incorporated with the expanding popularity of Ra and the Osiris-Horus mythology. Atum became Ra-Atum, the rays of the setting Sun. Osiris became the divine heir to Atum’s power on Earth and passes his divine authority to his son Horus. Early Egyptian myths imply the Sun is within the lioness, Sekhmet, at night and is reflected in her eyes; or that it is within the cow, Hathor, during the night, being reborn each morning as her son (bull).
Mesopotamian Shamash plays an important role during the Bronze Age, and “my Sun” is eventually used as an address to royalty. Similarly, South American cultures have a tradition of Sun worship, as with the Incan Inti.
Proto-Indo-European religion has a solar chariot, the Sun as traversing the sky in a chariot. In Germanic mythology this is Sol, in Vedic Surya, and in Greek Helios (occasionally referred to as Titan) and (sometimes) as Apollo. In Proto-indo-European mythology the sun appears to be a multilayered figure, manifested as a goddess but also perceived as the eye of the sky father Dyeus.
During the Roman Empire, a festival of the birth of the Unconquered Sun (or Dies Natalis Solis Invicti) was celebrated on the winter solstice—the “rebirth” of the Sun—which occurred on December 25 of the Julian calendar. In late antiquity, the theological centrality of the Sun in some Imperial religious systems suggest a form of a “solar monotheism”. The religious commemorations on December 25 were replaced under Christian domination of the Empire with the birthday of Christ.
Sun worship was prevalent in ancient Egyptian religion. The earliest deities associated with the Sun are all goddesses: Wadjet, Sekhmet, Hathor, Nut, Bast, Bat, and Menhit. First Hathor, and then Isis, give birth to and nurse Horus and Ra. Hathor the horned-cow is one of the 12 daughters of Ra, gifted with joy and is a wet-nurse to Horus.
From at least the 4th Dynasty of ancient Egypt, the Sun was worshipped as the deity Re (pronounced probably as Riya, meaning simply ‘the sun‘), and portrayed as a falcon headed god surmounted by the solar disk, and surrounded by a serpent. Re supposedly gave warmth to the living body, symbolised as an ankh: a “T” shaped amulet with a looped upper half. The ankh, it was believed, was surrendered with death, but could be preserved in the corpse with appropriate mummification and funerary rites. The supremacy of Re in the Egyptian pantheon was at its highest with the 5th Dynasty, when open air solar temples became common. In the Middle Kingdom of Egypt, Ra lost some of his preeminence to Osiris, lord of the West, and judge of the dead. In the New Empire period, the Sun became identified with the dung beetle, whose spherical ball of dung was identified with the Sun. In the form of the sun disc Aten, the Sun had a brief resurgence during the Amarna Period when it again became the preeminent, if not only, divinity for the Pharaoh Akhenaton.
The Sun’s movement across the sky represents a struggle between the Pharaoh’s soul and an avatar of Osiris. Ra travels across the sky in his solar-boat; at dawn he drives away the demon king Apep. The “solarisation” of several local gods (Hnum-Re, Min-Re, Amon-Re) reaches its peak in the period of the fifth dynasty.
Rituals to the god Amun who became identified with the sun god Ra were often carried out on the top of temple pylons. A Pylon mirrored the hieroglyph for ‘horizon’ or akhet, which was a depiction of two hills “between which the sun rose and set”, associated with recreation and rebirth. On the first Pylon of the temple of Isis at Philae, the pharaoh is shown slaying his enemies in the presence of Isis, Horus and Hathor. In the eighteenth dynasty, the earliest-known monotheistic head of state, Akhenaten changed the polytheistic religion of Egypt to a monotheistic one, Atenism of the solar-disk and is the first recorded state monotheism. All other deities were replaced by the Aten, including Amun-Ra, the reigning sun god of Akhenaten’s own region. Unlike other deities, the Aten did not have multiple forms. His only image was a disk—a symbol of the Sun.
Soon after Akhenaten’s death, worship of the traditional deities was reestablished by the religious leaders (Ay the High-Priest of Amen-Ra, mentor of Tutankhaten/Tutankhamen) who had adopted the Aten during the reign of Akhenaten.
Main article: Aztec Religion
In Aztec mythology, Tonatiuh (Nahuatl languages: Ollin Tonatiuh, “Movement of the Sun”) was the sun god. The Aztec people considered him the leader of Tollan (heaven). He was also known as the fifth sun, because the Aztecs believed that he was the sun that took over when the fourth sun was expelled from the sky. According to their cosmology, each sun was a god with its own cosmic era. According to the Aztecs, they were still in Tonatiuh’s era. According to the Aztec creation myth, the god demanded human sacrifice as tribute and without it would refuse to move through the sky. The Aztecs were fascinated by the Sun and carefully observed it, and had a solar calendar similar to that of the Maya. Many of today’s remaining Aztec monuments have structures aligned with the Sun.
In the Aztec calendar, Tonatiuh is the lord of the thirteen days from 1 Death to 13 Flint. The preceding thirteen days are ruled over by Chalchiuhtlicue, and the following thirteen by Tlaloc.
Main article: Religion in pre-Islamic Arabia
Sun worship was apparently practiced in Pre-Islamic Arabia, abolished only under Muhammad. The Arabian solar deity appears to have been a goddess, Shams/Shamsun, most likely related to the Canaanite Shapash and broader middle-eastern Shamash. She was the patron goddess of Himyar, and possibly exalted by the Sabaeans and early Bedouin.
Main article: Buddhist Mythology
In Buddhist cosmology, the bodhisattva of the Sun is known as Sūryaprabha (“having the light of the sun”); in Chinese he is called Rigong Riguang Pusa (The Bright Solar Bodhisattva of the Solar Palace), Rigong Riguang Tianzi (The Bright Solar Prince of the Solar Palace), or Rigong Riguang Zuntian Pusa (The Greatly Revered Bright Solar Prince of the Solar Palace), one of the 20 or 24 guardian devas.
Sūryaprabha is often depicted with Candraprabha (“having the light of the moon”), called in Chinese Yuegong Yueguang Pusa (The Bright Lunar Bodhisattva of the Lunar Palace), Yuegong Yueguang Tianzi ( The Bright Lunar Prince of the Lunar Palace), or Yuegong Yueguang Zuntian Pusa (The Greatly Revered Bright Lunar Prince of the Lunar Palace). Together with Bhaiṣajyaguru Buddha (Chinese: Yaoshi Fo) these two bodhisattvas constitute the Dongfang San Sheng(Three Holy Sages of the Eastern Quarter).
The devas Surya and Candra are also recognized as deities that embody the Sun and Moon, respectively.
Those who practice Dievturība, beliefs of traditional Latvian culture, celebrate the Sun goddess, Saule, known in traditional Lithuanian beliefs as Saulė. Saule/Saulė is among the most important deities in Baltic mythology and traditions.
The sun in Insular Celtic culture is assumed to have been feminine, and several goddesses have been proposed as possibly solar in character. In Continental Celtic culture, the sun gods, like Belenos, Grannos, and Lug, were masculine.
In Irish, the name of the Sun, Grian, is feminine. The figure known as Áine is generally assumed to have been either synonymous with her, or her sister, assuming the role of Summer Sun while Grian was the Winter Sun. Similarly, Étaín has at times been considered to be another theonym associated with the Sun; if this is the case, then the pan-Celtic Epona might also have been originally solar in nature, though Roman syncretism pushed her towards a lunar role.
The British Sulis has a name cognate with that of other Indo-European solar deities such as the Greek Helios and Indic Surya, and bears some solar traits like the association with the eye as well as epithets associated with light. The theonym Sulevia, which is more widespread and probably unrelated to Sulis, is sometimes taken to have suggested a pan-Celtic role as a solar goddess. She indeed might have been the de facto solar deity of the Celts.
The Welsh Olwen has at times been considered a vestige of the local sun goddess, in part due to the possible etymological association with the wheel and the colours gold, white and red.
Brighid has at times been argued as having had a solar nature, fitting her role as a goddess of fire and light.
Even the Gayatri mantra, which is regarded as one of the most sacred of the Vedic hymns is dedicated to Savitr, one of the principal Ādityas. The Adityas are a group of solar deities, from the Brahmana period numbering twelve. The ritual of Surya Namaskaar, performed by Hindus, is an elaborate set of hand gestures and body movements, designed to greet and revere the Sun.
The sun god in Hinduism is an ancient and revered deity. In later Hindu usage, all the Vedic Ādityas lost identity and metamorphosed into one composite deity, Surya, the Sun. The attributes of all other Ādityas merged into that of Surya and the names of all other Ādityas became synonymous with, or epithets of, Surya.
The Ramayana has Rama as a descendant of the Surya, thus belonging to the Suryavansha or the clan of the Sun. The Mahabharata describes one of its warrior heroes, Karna, as being the son of the Pandava mother Kunti and Surya.
The sun god is said to be married to the goddess Ranaadeh, also known as Sanjnya. She is depicted in dual form, being both sunlight and shadow, personified. The goddess is revered in Gujarat and Rajasthan.
The charioteer of Surya is Aruna, who is also personified as the redness that accompanies the sunlight in dawn and dusk. The sun god is driven by a seven-horsed Chariot depicting the seven days of the week.
In India, at Konark, in the state of Odisha, a temple is dedicated to Surya. The Konark Sun Temple has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Surya is the most prominent of the navagrahas or nine celestial objects of the Hindus. Navagrahas can be found in almost all Hindu temples. There are further temples dedicated to Surya, one in Arasavilli, Srikakulam District in Andhra Pradesh, one in Gujarat at Modhera and another in Rajasthan. The temple at Arasavilli was constructed in such a way that on the day of Radhasaptami, the Sun’s rays directly fall on the feet of the Sri Suryanarayana Swami, the deity at the temple.
Chhath (Hindi: छठ, also called Dala Chhath) is an ancient Hindu festival dedicated to Surya, the chief solar deity, unique to Bihar, Jharkhand and the Terai. This major festival is also celebrated in the northeast region of India, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and parts of Chhattisgarh. Hymns to the Sun can be found in the Vedas, the oldest sacred texts of Hinduism. Practiced in different parts of India, the worship of the Sun has been described in the Rigveda. There is another festival called Sambha-Dasami, which is celebrated in the state of Odisha for the surya.
The Gurjars (or Gujjars), were Sun-worshipers and are described as devoted to the feet of the sun god Surya. Their copper-plate grants bear an emblem of the Sun and on their seals too, this symbol is depicted.
Another speculation connects the biblical elements of Christ’s life to those of a sun god. The Christian gospels report that Jesus had 12 followers, which is claimed to be akin to the twelve zodiac constellations. When the Sun was in the house of Scorpio, Judas plotted with the chief priests and elders to arrest Jesus by kissing him. As the Sun exited Libra, it enters into the waiting arms of Scorpio to be kissed by Scorpio’s bite.
Many of the world’s sacrificed godmen have their traditional birthday on December 25. During this time, people believed that the “sun god” had “died” for three days and was “born again” on December 25. After December 25, the Sun supposedly moves 1 degree north, foreshadowing longer days. The three days following December 21 remain the darkest days of the year where Jesus (the sun) dies and remains unseen for three days.
At the beginning of the first century, the Sun on the vernal equinox passed from Aries to Pisces (1 A.D. to 2150 A.D). That harmonizes with the mentioned lamb and fish in the gospels. The man carrying a pitcher of water (Luke 22:10) is Aquarius, the water bearer, who is always seen as a man pouring out a pitcher of water. He represents the age after Pisces, and when the Sun leaves the Age of Pisces (Jesus), it will go into the House of Aquarius.
By “the sun of righteousness” in Malachi 4:2 “the fathers, from Justin downward, and nearly all the earlier commentators understand Christ, who is supposed to be described as the rising sun”. The New Testament itself contains a hymn fragment: “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Clement of Alexandria wrote of “the Sun of the Resurrection, he who was born before the dawn, whose beams give light”.
Jesus and the Sun in ancient Christian writings
The idea that Christians chose to celebrate the birth of Jesus on 25 December because this was the date of an already existing festival of the Sol Invictus was expressed in an annotation to a manuscript of a work by 12th-century Syrian bishop Jacob Bar-Salibi. The scribe who added it wrote: “It was a custom of the Pagans to celebrate on the same 25 December the birthday of the Sun, at which they kindled lights in token of festivity. In these solemnities and revelries the Christians also took part. Accordingly when the doctors of the Church perceived that the Christians had a leaning to this festival, they took counsel and resolved that the true Nativity should be solemnised on that day.”
In the judgement of the Church of England Liturgical Commission, this view has been seriously challenged by a view based on an old tradition, according to which the date of Christmas was fixed at nine months after 25 March, the date of the vernal equinox, on which the Annunciation was celebrated. The Jewish calendar date of 14 Nisan was believed to be that of creation, as well as of the Exodus and so of Passover, and Christians held that the new creation, both the death of Jesus and the beginning of his human life, occurred on the same date, which some put at 25 March in the Julian calendar.
It was a traditional Jewish belief that great men lived a whole number of years, without fractions, so that Jesus was considered to have been conceived on 25 March, as he died on 25 March, which was calculated to have coincided with 14 Nisan. Sextus Julius Africanus (c.160 – c.240) gave 25 March as the day of creation and of the conception of Jesus. The tractate De solstitia et aequinoctia conceptionis et nativitatis Domini nostri Iesu Christi et Iohannis Baptistae falsely attributed to John Chrysostom also argued that Jesus was conceived and crucified on the same day of the year and calculated this as 25 March. A passage of the Commentary on the prophet Daniel by Hippolytus of Rome, written in about 204, has also been appealed to.
Among those who have put forward this view are Louis Duchesne, Thomas J. Talley, David J. Rothenberg, J. Neil Alexander, and Hugh Wybrew.
The Oxford Companion to Christian Thought also remarks on the uncertainty about the order of precedence between the celebrations of the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun and the birthday of Jesus: “This ‘calculations’ hypothesis potentially establishes 25 December as a Christian festival before Aurelian’s decree, which, when promulgated, might have provided for the Christian feast both opportunity and challenge.” Susan K. Roll calls “most extreme” the unproven hypothesis that “would call Christmas point-blank a ‘christianization’ of Natalis Solis Invicti, a direct conscious appropriation of the pre-Christian feast, arbitrarily placed on the same calendar date, assimilating and adapting some of its cosmic symbolism and abruptly usurping any lingering habitual loyalty that newly-converted Christians might feel to the feasts of the state gods”.
Both the sun and Christ were said to be born anew on December 25. But while the solar associations with the birth of Christ created powerful metaphors, the surviving evidence does not support such a direct association with the Roman solar festivals. The earliest documentary evidence for the feast of Christmas makes no mention of the coincidence with the winter solstice. Thomas Talley has shown that, although the Emperor Aurelian’s dedication of a temple to the sun god in the Campus Martius (C.E. 274) probably took place on the ‘Birthday of the Invincible Sun’ on December 25, the cult of the sun in pagan Rome ironically did not celebrate the winter solstice nor any of the other quarter-tense days, as one might expect. The origins of Christmas, then, may not be expressly rooted in the Roman festival.
The same point is made by Hijmans: “It is cosmic symbolism…which inspired the Church leadership in Rome to elect the southern solstice, December 25, as the birthday of Christ … While they were aware that pagans called this day the ‘birthday’ of Sol Invictus, this did not concern them and it did not play any role in their choice of date for Christmas.” He also states that, “while the winter solstice on or around December 25 was well established in the Roman imperial calendar, there is no evidence that a religious celebration of Sol on that day antedated the celebration of Christmas”.
A study of Augustine of Hippo remarks that his exhortation in a Christmas sermon, “Let us celebrate this day as a feast not for the sake of this sun, which is beheld by believers as much as by ourselves, but for the sake of him who created the sun”, shows that he was aware of the coincidence of the celebration of Christmas and the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun, although this pagan festival was celebrated at only a few places and was originally a peculiarity of the Roman city calendar. It adds: “He also believes, however, that there is a reliable tradition which gives 25 December as the actual date of the birth of our Lord.”
The comparison of Christ with the astronomical Sun is common in ancient Christian writings. In the 5th century, Pope Leo I (the Great) spoke in several sermons on the Feast of the Nativity of how the celebration of Christ’s birth coincided with increase of the Sun’s position in the sky. An example is: “But this Nativity which is to be adored in heaven and on earth is suggested to us by no day more than this when, with the early light still shedding its rays on nature, there is borne in upon our senses the brightness of this wondrous mystery.
Christians adopted the image of the Sun (Helios or Sol Invictus) to represent Christ. In this portrayal he is a beardless figure with a flowing cloak in a chariot drawn by four white horses, as in the mosaic in Mausoleum M discovered under Saint Peter’s Basilica and in an early-4th-century catacomb fresco. Clement of Alexandria had spoken of Christ driving his chariot in this way across the sky.
Solar gods have a strong presence in Indonesian mythology. In some cases the Sun is revered as a “father” or “founder” of the tribe. This may apply for the whole tribe or only for the royal and ruling families. This practise is more common in Australia and on the island of Timor, where the tribal leaders are seen as direct heirs to the sun god.
Some of the initiation rites include the second reincarnation of the rite’s subject as a “son of the Sun”, through a symbolic death and a rebirth in the form of a Sun. These rituals hint that the Sun may have an important role in the sphere of funerary beliefs. Watching the Sun’s path has given birth to the idea in some societies that the deity of the Sun descends in to the underworld without dying and is capable of returning afterward. This is the reason for the Sun being associated with functions such as guide of the deceased tribe members to the underworld, as well as with revival of perished. The Sun is a mediator between the planes of the living and the dead.
The primary local deity in Theosophy is the Solar Logos, “the consciousness of the sun”.
Three theories exercised great influence on nineteenth and early twentieth century mythography, beside the Tree worship of Mannhardt and the Totemism of J. F. McLennan, the “Sun myth” of Alvin Boyd Kuhn and Max Müller.
R. F. Littledale criticized the Sun myth theory when he illustrated that Max Müller on his own principles was himself only a Solar myth, whilst Alfred Lyall delivered a still stronger attack on the same theory and its assumption that tribal gods and heroes, such as those of Homer, were mere reflections of the Sun myth by proving that the gods of certain Rajput clans were really warriors who founded the clans not many centuries ago, and were the ancestors of the present chieftains.
Solar barge and sun chariot
Other sun boats were found in Egypt dating to different pharonic dynasties.
- Neolithic petroglyphs which (it has been speculated) show solar barges
- The many early Egyptian goddesses who are related as sun deities and the later gods Ra and Horus depicted as riding in a solar barge. In Egyptian myths of the afterlife, Ra rides in an underground channel from west to east every night so that he can rise in the east the next morning.
- The Nebra sky disk, which is thought to show a depiction of a solar barge.
- Nordic Bronze Age petroglyphs, including those found in Tanumshede often contains barges and sun crosses in different constellations.
A “sun chariot” is a mythological representation of the Sun riding in a chariot. The concept is younger than that of the solar barge, and typically Indo-European, corresponding with the Indo-European expansion after the invention of the chariot in the 2nd millennium BC.
Examples include these:
- In Norse mythology, the chariot of the goddess Sól, drawn by Arvak and Alsvid. The Trundholm sun chariot dates to the Nordic Bronze Age, more than 2,500 years earlier than the Norse myth, but is often associated with it.
- Greek Helios (or Apollo) riding in a chariot,
- Sol Invictus depicted riding a quadriga on the reverse of a Roman coin.
- Vedic Surya riding in a chariot drawn by seven horses
The Sun itself also was compared to a wheel, possibly in Proto-Indo-European, Greek hēliou kuklos, Sanskrit suryasya cakram, Anglo-Saxon sunnan hweogul (PIE *swelyosyo kukwelos).
In Chinese culture, the sun chariot is associated with the passage of time. For instance, in the poem Suffering from the Shortness of Days, Li He of the Tang dynasty is hostile and even deviant towards the legendary dragons that drew the sun chariot as a vehicle for the continuous progress of time. The following is the relevant except of that poem:
- “I will cut off the dragon’s feet, chew the dragon’s flesh,
- so that they can’t turn back in the morning or lie down at night.
- Left to themselves the old won’t die; the young won’t cry.”
Male and female
Solar deities are usually thought of as male while the lunar deity is female, but the opposite case is also seen. The cobra (of Pharaoh Son of Ra), the lioness(daughter of Ra), the cow (daughter of Ra), the dominant symbols of the most ancient Egyptian deities, carried their relationship to the sun atop their heads; they were female and their cults remained active throughout the history of the culture. Later a sun god (Aten) was established in the eighteenth dynasty on top of the other solar deities, before the “aberration” was stamped out and the old pantheon re-established. When male deities became associated with the sun in that culture, they began as the offspring of a mother (except Ra, King of the Gods who gave birth to himself).
In Germanic mythology the Sun is female and the Moon is male. The corresponding Old English name is Siȝel [ˈsɪjel], continuing Proto-Germanic *Sôwilô or *Saewelô. The Old High German Sun goddess is Sunna. In the Norse traditions, Sól rode through the sky on her chariot every day, pulled by two horses named Arvak and Alsvid. Sól also was called Sunna and Frau Sunne.
Other cultures that have sun goddesses include the Lithuanians (Saulė) and Latvians (Saule), the Finns (Päivätär, Beiwe) and the related Hungarians. Sun goddesses are found around the world in Australia (Bila, Walo), India (Bisal-Mariamna, Bomong, Sāvitri, Savitā, Suryā, Kn Sgni), among the Hittites (Wurusemu), and Egyptians (Sekhmet), in the Canary Islands (Chaxiraxi)/(Magek), in Native America, among the Cherokee (Unelanuhi), Natchez (Wal Sil), Inuit (Malina), and Miwok (Hekoolas), and in Asia among the Japanese (Amaterasu).
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia